My husband and I recently moved into our first single-family home. With great excitement, we picked up pieces of our past and carried them into our future space. We anticipated some of the added responsibilities of being first-time homeowners, such as curbside trash pick up, replacing air filters, and repairing anything that’s not nailed to the floor (as we have four young children). Unfortunately, we were a bit naïve about how soon those responsibilities could and would become an added part of our daily rhythms. With our new home came a new landscape. Our house sits atop a hilly, green turf with just one young tree in our front yard. Sometime after moving in, we noticed an overgrowth of weeds on our freshly laid sod, and our baby tree, though healthy looking, had an unusual lean to it. It wasn’t long before those few weeds became a full-blown crabgrass jungle, covering the entire backside of the hill in our yard.
Admittedly, we were ignorant of how bad it was getting. Fortunately, we had kind neighbors who gently encouraged us to consider the health of our lawn. They didn’t make accusations or blunt judgments; they simply asked what we thought of our lawn. It was a cue to us that our passing concerns were now validated. With their added observations, we decided it was time to investigate. Once we realized that the browning patches and super-weeds were not a normal part of establishing a new lawn, we sought to amend the damage that had been done. Had we continued to neglect the promptings of our neighbor, we would’ve lost much of our lawn and, in turn, paid a high price to repair it. After much toil and several DIY attempts to repair it ourselves, we were forced to seek professional support. We needed someone who was experienced and educated to help us not only recover the lawn, but position it to thrive.
Much like the landscape of our newly purchased home, the landscape of our lives can become inundated with beliefs, things, and behaviors that destroy the health of our soul. We often need someone to gently share their observations of our growth, or lack thereof. This type of engagement is called accountability. Accountability is having to consider, answer, defend or take responsibility for our beliefs, decisions, and lifestyles. No matter how poor our relationship with accountability, it has been and will remain a necessary good for our spiritual growth. When done right, accountability refines us, matures us, and humbles us. It sharpens us and brings us to places of healing. It restores us. It can even save us from preventable downfalls. Without accountability in our spiritual walk, we become blind, arrogant, and foolish, three things that scripture warns precede a fall.
Many of us consider our spiritual growth personal, an intimate, solo experience between God and us. While our relationship with God is meant to be intimate, it is not always meant to be personal in the sense that our lifestyles and choices can’t be questioned, observed, or scrutinized by others. When God created man, He determined that "It [was] NOT good for man to be alone." He then decided to “make a helper suitable for him.” After Adam named the animals God brought to him, scripture again echoed that none of them were suitable helpers. God then created a helper that was appropriate for the man. Some would argue that she may not have been the most appropriate considering what happens next. Still, God deemed her fit for the purposes He created her for, not the single most negative defining moment she chose.
She was meant to be a helper, procreator, cultivator, and more. Her existence alone gave Adam a level of accountability he could not have received from the animals. God gave Adam the responsibility of cultivating and caring for the garden of Eden. With the introduction of Eve, he now had to answer to someone other than God concerning his decisions, preferences, goals, etc. And after the fall, Adam had to answer to someone who failed temptation tests. It had to be humbling to justify his actions and decisions to someone as guilty as he was.
This is where many of us fail to remain accountable. We believe that a person or group must be “worthy” of being accountable to before we submit to their suggestions or observations. Though we always want to be wise about where we seek counsel, we want to be careful not to neglect opportunities God gives us to grow. Neglecting the questions, concerns, or observations of a brother that we misjudge, dishonor, or devalue, can cause us to miss opportunities that would produce spiritual growth within us. When you consider the questions, concerns, gestures, teachings, etc., of the community of believers, you position yourself for growth.
This principle is a principle that we see throughout the scriptures. When Jesus taught the crowds and disciples in Matthew 23, he warned the listeners to do what the scribes and Pharisees taught but not to do the works they did. In doing so, the people would have to humble themselves to receive true teachings from distorted vessels. But the blessing that Jesus promises is that “whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt. 23:12). We must remember that we submit to God's truth and wisdom, not just a person.
Our neighbor shared his observation of our lawn, and that helped us see the magnitude of the problem that was ensuing. However, our neighbor was not able to help us repair the lawn. We could’ve dismissed his observations for several reasons. We knew he wasn’t a landscaper; he didn’t have an award-winning lawn. He even had a couple of weeds in his yard (although nowhere near the extent of what we saw in our yard). Yet his observation was enough to encourage us to assess the health of our lawn honestly. Just because our neighbor couldn’t help us, it didn’t make his observations less valid. He made us aware of something that needed to be addressed. We then became responsible for getting it back to health.
Accountability is less about who reminds or reveals to us areas of deficiency or sufficiency and more about what we are responsible for or to. So whether our neighbor or a renowned landscaper told us that we had weed overgrowth, it became our responsibility to investigate and repair the lawn we now possess. Accountability ultimately requires us to answer to God for what we’ve done with what we possess. Possessions are not just what we own but thoughts, opportunities, plans, gifts, talents, strategies, lessons, and so on. Our consensual relationships are our possessions because we’ve positioned ourselves to be in them. When it comes to spiritual growth, we have to take ownership of the ways we cultivate that growth. Being in a community that holds us accountable helps us to grow in love, discernment, and faith.
A Good Model of Accountability
God’s blessing to us are people who influence us to study places in our spiritual walk that need maturing. We see where people consider themselves to be so spiritual to the point that they can’t hear the thoughts of their brothers and sisters. We’ve adopted terms like “my journey” and “my experience” to describe our walk with God as though it is superior to that of another. At times, we even exalt how God speaks and relates to us to avoid having to give straight answers about some of the ways we believe or behave. We can begin to suffer spiritually when we close ourselves off from the community God has placed us in. We open ourselves up to false interpretations of scripture, demonic doctrines, spiritual practices that are steeped in self-help journeys, or, worse case, divination. Unfortunately, many Christians have turned from healthy communities to go after gods that are more agreeable with their lifestyle of choice. We’ve seen a rise in New Age practices, tarot card readings, and interactions with mediums and witches. People often take these routes because they want something or want to KNOW something to gain control of an aspect of their life or surroundings. Some have even touted good witches as a reliable source of spirituality. Much of these interactions are less about the supernatural encounter and more about obtaining information that will empower the user who’s receiving the information. In essence, we want to control something or gain power outside of what God wants to give us willingly.
Fortunately, God has given us gifts in the form of people to help us access wisdom and revelation that can influence our souls. Ephesians 4:11-16 details a foundation of accountability that Christ gave us so we may have healthy spiritual growth. Paul urged the saints to speak the truth in love, to grow up in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from who the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Eph. 11-16. Our responsibility is to maintain a good connection with those who hold us accountable. As we do this, we and those around us can mature into flourishing disciples of Jesus Christ.
Practical Application: 3 Reasons Accountability is Necessary for Spiritual Growth
As I finish this blog, I want to leave you with three brief reasons why accountability is necessary for your spiritual growth and three ways you can implement accountability into your day-to-day life. God bless!
Accountability Helps Us Avoid Unnecessary Loss I can’t help but think of the parable of the talents and how the servant with the one talent buried the one he had until his master came back. Surely he had some type of relationship with the other two servants who chose to invest what they received from their master. He refused to partner with someone to help him increase what he had. In the end, he lost everything. When we spend too much time in our own space, resisting the community of believers God has given us, we suffer great loss. We isolate, listen to lies about who God is or is not, and ultimately make decisions from a deceived place because we did not seek the counsel of wise brothers and sisters. Proverbs 11:14 Possible Application: Identify one area in your life that looks like loss. This could be health, a gifting that you can’t seem to cultivate, finances, etc. Observe the community that is near to you in proximity. Ask for support where you are. It can be tempting to Google and YouTube some of your greatest needs, but often we can find support in people who have walked through or wisely avoided where we are.
Accountability Keeps Us Humble Humility is simply being honest with your abilities and character. When we choose to live amongst other believers, we will constantly live in a mirror, and this mirror keeps us humble. Proverbs 18:1 says "the one who has isolated himself seeks his own desires; he rejects all sound judgment." When we live accountable to others, we yield our “freedoms” that suggest we don’t have to answer to anyone. Christ never taught a gospel that called for us to only receive instruction, correction, and teachings directly from God to us. We can get wisdom from the Bible and from others. Possible Application: Having the issues of our heart exposed can be an uncomfortable practice to get used to, but remaining humble is an exercise we should continue for the rest of our lives. To stay in a place of humility, we need to make sure we are in a community of believers who know how to deal gently with one another’s successes and shortcomings. When we are in a place where love abounds, we feel strengthened and encouraged to continue doing hard things because we know we aren’t being judged or ridiculed.
Accountability Strengthens the Community Much of the work of accountability is done by simply living our lives within a community of believers. The emphasis here is on living. Visiting a place occasionally, participating in a social gathering, or doing ritualistic activities together gives us the illusion of community. When we live amongst each other, we get a full picture of each other's behaviors, beliefs, and lifestyles. This guards us against negatively and “positively” misjudging one another. We learn how to encourage and approach each other appropriately. Possible Applications: Hebrews 3 highlights encouragement as a tool we use in community to keep us from becoming hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Encouragement is a form of accountability because it requires us to know others in our community so that we can influence one another towards things that promote our growth in Christ and away from things that hinder our growth in Christ. Also, identify your strengths and the ways you can add to your home, work, or faith community. Think of practical or unconventional ways to support. For example, if you notice that the community of believers where you are struggle with healthy lifestyles, you can start a walking group. Or, if you see that relational exchange is low in your area, you can open your home to invite people to come and talk over a meal. As the relationships grow in the community, so does trust and accountability.
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